We did not see the Grand Place

Brussels is not known for being a dynamic city. In fact, its international relationship is more or less just: chocolate, pissing statue, many beers, source of banana regulations, near Paris, and boringness.

Having just returned from another Brussels improv weekend, I’m reminded that those reputational elements don’t quite do it justice. Except for the many beers.

Based on the great turnout for a spring series of improv, I returned for another full weekend of shows and workshops, this time with the delightful Paul Foxcroft. It was again at the Warehouse Theatre and hosted by the American Theatre Company.

Paul and I had a pretty good time in Brussels.

It was two days of all-day workshops, and shows in the evening. First half of the show was me and Paul doing a fairly open long-form, second half was short-form games with local Brussels improvisers from our intermediate workshop session.

Some observations/notes/reminders:

  • The large appreciative crowd on Saturday contributed to a very high-energy show. Sunday’s show had a smaller audience, and a very different dynamic (and not solely because Shane Dempsey wasn’t in the audience).
  • Some new personalities joined the intermediate workshop group and positively altered the dynamic.
  • Paul had a terrible waffle. In Belgium. It is possible.
  • Saturday’s Marbles (featuring Paul Foxcroft) show was the most murder-heavy improv show I’ve ever been part of. There was a body count of approximately fourteen people in a forty minute show. To be fair it wasn’t all murder; some of those people were eaten by a bear before the start of the show. But one other had a nunchuku pierce his forehead. So yeah, lots of dead bodies. We graphically ‘yes anded’ death for the whole entire show.
  • At one point in Sunday’s show Paul and I were emotionally devastated by the end of our relationship with a beloved floor safe. It was one of the funnest scenes I’ve played in a long time. All due to surprise and emotional commitment.
  • I plan workshops quite carefully. And it usually doesn’t take long for that plan to be abandoned. Kinda like an improv show; once things get going, it takes on a life of its own.
  • Improv doesn’t need to be taught/learned solely for its application to improv theatre. It’s good stuff for life too.
  • Hanging out in familiar neighbourhoods with lots of great people – friends old and new – and spending my days up to my chest in improv and improvisers never fails to be amazing. 

I sometimes categorize Brussels as only an ‘okay’ place to live, but then when I go back, and see all the people there whom I like, and the sustained keenness to learn, study, watch, be inspired by, think about, and discuss improv, with people from all over Europe, well it starts to make it look a whole lot less boring. I should stop being surprised by that.

One telling moment was off the top of Sunday’s show, when I asked the audience to tell me about their really boring job. There is so much beauracracy in Brussels, I thought surely someone had an incredible mundane job they’d like to share with the rest of us. My thought being that Paul and I could find some joy and excitement in this daily drudgery. A voice came from the back, loudly and clearly: “Cattery” (as in a place where people rear and look after cats).

Naturally I had some follow-up questions. Turns out this guy owns a cattery in Vladivostock. I was expecting something along the lines of “I do tax law for medium-sized car brake manufacturers and suppliers.” Instead, I got exact opposite of that: cat wrangling in Russia.

What I’m getting at is that Brussels still continually surprises me. I’m looking forward to next round.

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